“I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” –1 Timothy 3:14–15
What is the Church? Let’s start by defining what the Church isn’t. The Church isn’t a building. You can’t put up four walls and a roof, adorn it with a sign reading “First Denomination Church of Location,” and say, “Here is a church!” if it sits empty and unused. The Church isn’t a weekend worship service. That’s part of it, but not all of it. Jesus never said, “Attend an hour-and-a-half weekly service. This is the greatest and most important commandment.” And yet, so often when we talk about the Church, it’s either “Which church do you go to?” or “Let’s go to church.” Is this how the Bible talks about the Church? Of course not! In first-century Christianity, no group of Believers had a building dedicated solely to their weekly gatherings. When they talked about the Church, early Christians knew something we’ve largely forgotten today: the Church isn’t a building, it’s a people.
The Church with a capital C refers to all people who have faith in Jesus—no matter the time or place. So the apostle Paul, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and you all belong to the same Church. And this Church is an odd group of people. On one hand, we are the messengers of the living God to a dying world. We are the Body of Christ, the hope of the world. On the other hand, if you ask anyone who’s not a Christian what they think about the Church, you won’t hear anything close to that description. You’ll hear about the failures of the Church, like greed, sexual immorality, anger, and hurt. And those people aren’t wrong. The Church is made up of fallible human beings who sin, repent, and sin again. So why does the apostle Peter call the Church “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9)? Doesn’t he know who he’s talking about?
Over the next 40 days, we’ll explore the tension between many of the attributes of the Church. We’ve selected twenty attributes to define and explore biblically. We will spend two days on each attribute. First we’ll define the attribute, then we’ll answer the questions “So what?” and “What do we do about it?” Each “definition” devotional is followed by an “application” devotional on how we can live out that attribute. Hopefully, by the end of these 40 days, you’ll be better equipped to go out and be the salt and the light of the world.
Before We Begin
BASIC HOW-TO GUIDE
For each of the 40 days of this fast, we have composed a devotion for you to read. Each one was written by a different author, and they cover a different attribute of the Church. Before reading the devotion daily, get out your Bible and read the Scripture referenced at the top of the page. Doing so will give you the proper context for what is written in the corresponding devotion. Take time to contemplate the portion of Scripture and the devotion as you read them. Try not to rush! After you’ve read each devotion, take time to pray for 10 minutes. Communicate back to God what He’s told you through your reading and tell Him how you feel about what you’ve read. Most importantly, leave room for the Holy Spirit to speak to you. Don’t forget, we are doing this because the Holy Spirit has led us to fast together, just as He led Jesus into the wilderness to fast for 40 days. There is power in us collectively removing distractions and focusing on God. We want to always be growing as a community, and that doesn’t just mean numerically. We want our spiritual depth to be even greater than our numerical attendance. If we devote ourselves to reading the Scripture, reading each devotion, and spending time with God in prayer, there’s no limit to what God can and will do in this community!
WHAT IS FASTING?
To fast means to voluntarily abstain from certain foods, eating and/or drinking, or certain activities for an extended period of time. Biblical fasting is a discipline of voluntarily denying one’s self in order to be available for prayer and communion with God. Since it’s an ultimate act of self-denial, you are entering into an intense training in righteousness.
There are many reasons why people fasted in the Bible, and all of them are good. Some wanted wisdom and power, while others were repenting of their sins. However, there was one aspect of the fasting experience each had in common: a personal encounter with the living God. As you begin to consider reasons for your fast, there is one that will override all other reasons and that is to have a powerful,
life-changing encounter with God.
WHY GIVE UP SECULAR MEDIA?
As followers of Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). Just as nothing unclean was allowed to enter the temple, we should be careful with what we allow to enter our hearts through our eyes or ears. As Christians, we are called to discern what we watch, what we listen to, and what we think about (see Philippians 4:8).
WHAT WILL WE BE FASTING?
In addition to what we are fasting listed in the snapshot below, we also encourage those participating to ask and listen to the Holy Spirit about giving up other things for the duration of the fast personal to them, such as social media, caffeine, video games, etc.
Ask God to help you make a list of your sins. Confess every sin the Holy Spirit calls to your remembrance and accept God’s forgiveness. Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you as the Holy Spirit leads you.
Eat smaller meals before the fast and avoid food high in fat and sugar. If you have a chronic ailment or are on prescription medication, consult your doctor and consider modifying your fast.
All scripture is referenced from the CSB translation unless otherwise noted.
Practical Tips and Guidelines
- Exercise Moderately –
- During the days when we’re fasting a meal or only eating one meal, avoid strenuous exercise and excess physical activity.
- Stay Hydrated –
- Make sure to drink plenty of water while fasting.
- Drinking fruit juice during the fast will decrease your hunger pains and give natural energy.
- The best juices are made from fresh watermelon, lemons, grapes, apples, cabbage, beets, carrots, celery, or leafy green vegetables. In cold weather, you may enjoy a warm vegetable broth.
- Mix acidic juices (orange and tomato) with water for your stomach’s sake.
- Rest and Prepare Mentally –
- Rest as much as your schedule will permit.
- Prepare yourself for temporary mental discomforts, such as impatience, crankiness, and episodes of anxiety.
- Expect some physical discomfort, especially on the second day. You may have hunger pains and dizziness.
- Withdrawal from caffeine and sugar may cause headaches.
- Physical discomforts may also include weakness, tiredness, or sleeplessness.
- Breaking the Fast –
- End the fast by eating certain foods gradually. Suddenly reintroducing your stomach to foods you haven’t eaten in 40 days will likely have negative, even dangerous, consequences.
- Practice moderation and wisdom in what media you introduce back into your life after the fast is over.
Four Things to Consider
- Be Content Throughout – Avoid complaining about what foods you can’t eat, movies you can’t watch, etc. Don’t appear gloomy for people to feel sorry for you or think how spiritual you are. On the contrary, do what Jesus says and “put oil on your head and wash your face” (Matthew 6:17)! Act normal and carry on. We have the privilege and honor of giving things up for Christ, knowing He gave everything up for us. Complaining negates the very purpose of this fast. We don’t have to fast; we get to.
- Avoid Viewing the Fast as a “Diet Plan” – Some people will see the chief benefits of these next 40 days as getting a little slimmer, getting off caffeine, or not taking desserts for granted. But if we look at Scripture, we see it as a time set aside for deep spiritual urgency when God’s people really wanted Him to show up in a big way.
- Replace Sacrifice with God – Sometimes, we can get caught up in the “whats” of fasting without thinking about the “who.” For these next 40 days, there are things we should want to give up in our lives so we might replace them with God. As Jared Wilson says in his book “Gospel Deeps,” “the soul has a palate and a throat, else Jesus would not bid us drink.” John Piper says, “It is not just our bodies that are built for enjoyment, but our spiritual senses, the insidest of our insides.” The problem, of course, is we are bent on thinking our insides will have joy when our outsides do. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s actually the other way around. Food and drink will not truly satisfy our bodies until the bread and wine of Jesus’ body satisfies our souls. For the next 40 days, we get to savor and enjoy Christ without any distractions. If we just give up food and don’t replace it with the presence of God, it is of no benefit to us. We’ll only be unnecessarily hungry people. Let’s all take a moment to breathe in, slow down, and remember not just what we’re about to do, but who we are doing this for.
- Fasting Successfully – If you sincerely humble yourself before the Lord, repent, pray, and seek God’s face, you will experience a heightened awareness of His presence (see John 14:21). A single fast, however, is not a spiritual cure-all. Just as we need fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit daily, we also need new times of fasting before God. It takes time to build your spiritual fasting endurance. If you fail to make it through your first fast, do not be discouraged. As soon as possible, undertake another fast until you do succeed. God will honor you for your faithfulness.
Fasting, Sabbath, and “Digital Babylon”
WHAT IS “DIGITAL BABYLON?”
In the book, “Faith for Exiles” by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, the authors describe our society’s obsession with digital media. They called the effects and culture of this new way of living “Digital Babylon.” Biblically, Babylon was a place where the Israelites were in exile from their home, Jerusalem, for 70 years. Whereas Jerusalem was known as a place of faith in the true God, Babylon was a pluralistic, fast-paced, hedonistic culture where anything went, and everything was always changing.
Sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it? That’s why Kinnaman and Matlock call today’s culture Digital Babylon. But Digital Babylon isn’t a place like the biblical Babylon. It’s an idea, a movement, a culture. And we’re all in it. Anywhere you go online, Digital Babylon is pushing its values to you. “You’re perfect the way you are.” “Buy our product, and then you’ll be happy.” “Only you can decide what’s true and what’s false.” So our goal, living in the culture of Digital Babylon, is to view ourselves as exiles, not of this world but in this world.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?
Kinnaman and Matlock prescribe five practices for building resistance to Digital Babylon, which you can read about in their book. During this 40 day fast though, our urge to you is simple: establish routines of digital sabbath. “Digital sabbath” means intentionally removing yourself from Digital Babylon for a set amount of time. Taking digital sabbath doesn’t mean you can’t even look at a screen until the end of the fast. But it does mean intentionally determining the beneficial or detrimental uses of your devices and eliminating the detrimental uses.
Maybe for you, this means removing yourself from social media, the news cycle, and digital games for the next 40 days. Or you could set aside an hour a day where you don’t look at your phone and are exclusively and wholly present with your family. Whatever you need to do, do something. These 40 days’ whole goal is to focus our attention on God, so remove yourself from a culture doing everything it can to pull you away from Him.
Hi, my name is Jonathan Ciecka. It was my privilege to oversee this project, and to work with everyone who contributed to it. I’d like to first thank you, the reader, for participating in this 40-day fast. Thank you for sacrificing your comfort, and dedicating your time and energy to drawing closer to God and His people, the Church. I’d also like to thank the individuals who equipped you with this devotional. The graphics team, Billy Sons and Cameron Wiggins, designed and formatted this book so it would look nice and be readable. Sarah Wiggers and Cherie Bernatt edited all of the content you’re reading, so it would flow together. In no particular order, the authors of these devotionals poured their hearts and minds into helping you see and live out what God has said about His Church: Alphie Adams, Emma Adams, Amanda Keener, Brayden Armstrong, Cole Popplewell, Eli Rhodes, Emily Ciecka, Emily Harmon, Erin Belcher, Grant Marshall, Jord’n Bay, Josh Brooker, Malorie Porter, Maridel Williams, Mary Howell, Michael Moore, and Rebecca Foster. Thank you again for participating in this, and I hope the work of everyone I’ve mentioned above has helped you continue to grow as an authentic follower of Jesus.